Welcome back to San Francisco! I hope you came dressed in layers and are ready to take to the hills.
I suggest starting where we left off. North Beach – San Francisco’s Italian neighborhood and home to crooked Lombard Street. If you are staying at one of the hotels I mentioned in A Weekend with Kids in San Francisco (Part 1), a fun way to get to North Beach is by hopping on a cable car on the Powell/Hyde line.
From here, you can stroll down hill to North Beach. Once at the bottom of Lombard Street, if you (read: your kids) are so inclined you can head up the other side to Coit Tower. It’s a climb, a serious climb up hill but the views are amazing and at least the tower has an elevator.
That uphill climb justifies a delicious dinner. There are several options in North Beach that I mentioned in A Weekend with Kids in San Francisco (Part 1).
Or, you can head over a few more blocks and check out Chinatown. One of the most popular places to eat is House of Nanking though I have yet to check it out. If you want something a little nicer (but still kid friendly) make a reservation at The House for some good Asian fusion.
A fun and sustainable way to get around the bay side of the city is to rent bikes. There are a number of bike rental places in the neighborhood of North Beach and near Ghirardelli Square.
If you didn’t already take the cable car all the way to Ghirardelli Square, you can bike on over and fuel up on ice cream at Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop. You are, after all, going to need the energy to pedal up some hills! And who can resist ice cream with sprinkles and loads of chocolate?
Just below Ghirardelli Square is Aquatic Park, a nice little cove on the Bay with a small sandy beach where kids can play. Some kids are brave enough to dip their toes in the rippling waves. But don’t get too excited and go packing your bathing suits for this. The water is a breath stealing 50 degrees on average.
From Aquatic Park you can pedal up and over the hill to Crissy Field, beautifully rehabilitated former military land that runs along the San Francisco Bay to the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Several new cafés and activity locales are popping up in the old military buildings that still exist on the grounds. You can scale to new heights at the rock climbing gym Planet Granite or let you inner child bounce at House of Air, an indoor trampoline park.
From Crissy Field you can test your hill climbing skills again by pedaling up and across the Golden Gate Bridge. A note about these hills: it may seem obvious, but I recommend that you get your bike into the lowest gear several meters before hitting the incline. If I had a penny for every tourist I’ve seen try to switch gears mid-climb and either fall over or cause the chain to come off….
Safely uphill and over the Golden Gate Bridge you will find a great vista for looking back on the city. From here, you can (blessedly) coast downhill to the town of Sausalito. Just at the bottom by the base of the bridge is another tract of repurposed former military land.
The Bay Area Discovery Museum, one of the best kids’ museums in the Bay Area, is located here. They have great exhibits and activities and a decent cafe to grab some food. If you are looking for a nicer place to grab a bite (you should reward yourself for all that hard cycling, no?) check out Farley Bar at Cavallo Point Lodge which is walking distance (or a short pedal) from the museum.
To get back to San Francisco, you’ll just need to head back up the quite steep and very long hill you rode down. Just kidding. You have another option. You can ride into downtown Sausalito, check out the funky shops, cafés or restaurant and then grab a ferry back to the city.
Bay Area ferries run all day long between Sausalito and San Francisco and they have bike parking on the lower level. Your hill riding is done! Hop on a ferry, take to the deck and enjoy the ride back to the city.
Grab dinner in the Marina district (good restaurants abound and almost all are kid friendly), along the Embarcadero or at one of the great places in North Beach. Rest your legs and get a good night ‘s sleep because tomorrow you’ll visit Golden Gate Park and it’s 1000+ acres.
One of the best places to visit with kids in San Francisco is Golden Gate Park. The park is more than 3 miles long running east from the Pacific Ocean and home to a bison reserve, botanical gardens, a flower conservatory and the Japanese Tea Garden, to name a few. The place your kids will likely love the most, however, is the Koret Children’s Quarter.
The play structures are fairly new and there are several to suit a range of ages. The old concrete slides are great and if you have a little thrill seeker look for a piece of cardboard (often laying around near the slides) for a super quick shot to the bottom. Off to the side of the playground is a beautiful old carousel and a concessions stand where you can grab some snacks.
Keep in mind that although the park looks flat – in SF especially – looks can be deceiving. Nearly all 3 miles from the ocean to the park entrance at the far end are up hill. If you don’t have a car and haven’t sworn off cycling for the next 5 years after biking over the Golden Gate Bridge you can rent bikes to make getting around a bit easier.
If you’re looking to walk, plan stops to check out the different gardens, ponds, and other attractions along the way. This should help keep your kids entertained and hopefully not focused on the incessant incline. If all else fails, bribe them with a promise of Strauss Family Creamery organic frozen yogurt from the cafe in The California Academy of Sciences – totally worth the uphill effort!
Golden Gate Park is also home to two world class museums – the DeYoung Museum and the California Academy of Sciences. Both have fantastic exhibits and provide local, organic and delicious food in their cafés and restaurants. The DeYoung offers family activities on the weekends so check out the website before you go. The Academy, as locals call it, is host to a three story indoor rainforest, an albino alligator, penguins and one of the deepest coral reef exhibits in the world.
It’s your last afternoon/evening in San Francisco. From Golden Gate Park head on over to Hayes Valley, an up and coming neighborhood with great playgrounds, restaurants and shops that kids are sure to love. I couldn’t have provided better advice on this neighborhood than the folks over at Red Tricycle (continuation of bicycle theme not intended…). Check out their article – Hayes Valley, a San Francisco Neighborhood for Kids.
I hope you had a good time and your legs aren’t too sore come Monday!